2020 Telstra NATSIAA

This year, the exhibition of Australia’s longest running Indigenous art awards – The Telstra National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Awards (NATSIAA) – is entirely viewable online. While COVID-19 has crippled many in the arts, it has also fostered innovation and, in this instance, brought some of the country’s best emerging and established artists to a wider audience in Australia – and around the world.

Telstra NATSIAA showcases some of the best Australian Indigenous contemporary art from around the country. Each year the exhibition sees an increasing variety of art forms and media, canvassing the richness and diversity of contemporary Indigenous artistic practice, and the pre-eminence of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander voices, nationwide, within the visual arts. Of the sixty-five NATSIAA finalists this year, twenty-five are from the Northern Territory, sixteen from Western Australia, sixteen from South Australia and eight from Queensland, New South Wales, ACT and Victoria. Eleven emerging artists and many distinguished senior artists from remote and urban regions of Australia encompass this year’s exhibition.

The winners of the awards – which amount to $80,000 in prize money – were chosen by a judging panel consisting of Darwin-based artist Karen Mills, Stephen Williamson, Curator of Araluen Arts Centre and the Director of Injalak Arts Donna Nadjamerrek.  This year’s major Telstra Art Award Winner, receiving a $50,000 cash prize, was awarded to Tommy May, a Wangkajunga and Walmajarri man whose artistic career spans more than three decades. About his winning work, Wirrkanja (2020), the artist says, ‘This work is ‘Wirrkanja’, it’s the country where I lost my brother, its jilji (sand dune) country and flat country. Theres a jila there (living spring waterhole). It’s not far from Kurtal, over two sand dunes. It’s in flood time, the water runs down the jilji (sand dunes). This is my country and my family’s country. This is my job, it’s a good job.’ He continues, ‘Thank you. At last. I feel proud. I’ve been trying all my life, all the time second, fourth, last, sometimes nothing. But I got it now, today. My days, my time this year, I’m the winner. At last.’

This year’s winner of the Telstra General Painting Award is Adrian Jangala Robertson for his painting Yalpirakinu (2020), which luminously evokes the sense of place, scale and colour of the artist’s country – Yalpirakinu, allowing us to ‘see’ this country through the artist’s eyes. Marrnyula Mununggurr was awarded the Telstra Bark Painting Award for her work Muṉguymirri, which employs a cross hatching grid pattern – the sacred design for the freshwaters of the Djapu clan at their homeland Waṉḏawuy now an outstation about 150 kilometres south of Yirrkala. Iluwanti Ken won the Telstra Works on Paper Award with Walawulu ngunytju kukaku ananyi (Mother eagles going hunting) (2020), which tells the story of mother eagles hunting for food to feed their babies. Iluwanti says that these birds are like Anangu mothers, they strong shelters, they hunt to find food to feed their children and protect their babies from outside dangers. The Wandjuk Marika 3D Memorial Award went to Jenna Lee, whose HIStory vessels (2020) were created in response to the 250-year anniversary of Lieutenant James Cook’s arrival, looking to reclaim agency of historic representation of Aboriginal people in Australia. Siena Mayutu Wurmarri Stubbs won the Telstra Multimedia Award for her film Shinkansen (2019), which was created on the Shinkansen from Nagoya to Kyoto, and  Cecilia Umbagai took out the  Telstra Emerging Artist Award with Yoogu (2020), a bark painting that expresses the the power and importance of the Wandjina (sacred ancestral spiritual beings).

Telstra National Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Art Awards
8 August 2020 – 31 January 2021
Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory, Darwin; virtual gallery can be viewed online


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